Planting new sod with a few tricky problems to overcome

funkyamazon(Los Angeles)June 15, 2012

I am planting new sod in my backyard. Naturally, I've been combing the organic lawn care forum for answers/suggestions/advice. I'm getting close to DDay and need some advice. Sorry for the wordy post. Just want to give as much info as possible. We live in Los Angeles, Pasadena, to be specific. We bought the house from a family that owned it for 63 years and they had Monsanto mow and blow doing the yard since the times of the dinosaurs. I'm sure it's filled with evil, chemical crap. Except under my concrete... Hee Hee! Can't reach me there! I have not fertilized or done anything except water the front lawn and ignore the backyard while restoring the 1927 house for about a year and a half.

I know now is not a great time to plant sod. This is problem number one, however, I have one year old greatly in need of grass to play on. Any suggestions on overcoming this not ideal weather? We really need grass ASAP.

Problem number two is related. I have a long established St Augustine front lawn that is relatively happy but destroys my sons little knees when he plays on it. It's harsh stuff. I do not want to bring the St Augustine from the front into the back. I am even planning to have my own mower for the gardener to just use on the backyard to limit contamination to my new sod and organic vegetable garden and chicken coop. Is this realistic to control the St Augustine (which my husband likes and I dislike) and keep it from taking over?

I want to plant my sod organically since my son will be on it and my garden and chickens are organic. I've hired a guy to Rototill the yard since I pulled out a 50 year old concrete slab covering the entire yard. We have clay soils but there are earthworms, a decent amount. (yay! Life!) I am planning to bring truck loads of compost in and maybe add some alfalfa. I can do meal or pellets, but was wondering if anyone had input on which would be better for new sod on barren soil, essentially. I am planning to plant a KBG mix with rye since it may be the best fit for us.

If you could do it all right, what would you suggest?

Compost? Alfalfa? Meal or pellets? Should I add molasses to feed? Anything I'm leaving out? We are putting in a brand new sprinkler system with rain birds and bubblers for my garden. (my husband wants automated. I want to hose, oh well)

I'd love to give the grass a fighting chance. I really do not like grass but my son will really benefit from having a soft area without nasty chemicals to play on. I know we are getting towards the hot season but I feel like if I get it in now, we have maybe 6 to 8 weeks for it to get going before summer really starts cooking. I want to make my husband and son happy, but also keep me happy with organic stuff as much as possible.

I plan to try and rehab the St Augustine at some point, but that's another post. Oh and, would love to get rid of Mr mow and blow, but my husband will not let me! So sprinklers in my garden and terrible gardener in my hair, is my cross to bear. At least he knows better than to touch any of my beds. He's seen me out there with the axe taking out roots! ;)

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First, get the soil into good condition. The presence of earthworms is good and indicates that maybe the previous owners were not quite as bad as you have thought, but adequate levels of organic matter, 6 to 8 percent, is necesary to help maintain the soil moisture your turf will need.
Second, talk with the people at your local office of the University of California Cooperative Extension Service about what is the best lawn for your area and use. Watering restrictions can dictate what you might put in.
Laying sod can be done anytime, although there are times when it is better. Seeding a lawn really needs to be done at certain times.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 7:30AM
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funkyamazon(Los Angeles)


Thank you. I will certainly speak to the university Of Calfornia people. I am fortunate that we live in an unincorporated area that does not have most of the restrictions on watering as the rest of LA. I have tried Marathon 3 sod in the past at a previous home and had poor results due to fragility. It just doesn't recover well at all. It may not need much water, but it's angry all the time. Especially if you walk on it. I need to find a better start at this house with a toddler and all.

The worms keep me hopeful though.

Have you used or know of anyone who used alfalfa in place of other fertilizers when planting sod? I would like to start organically and wonder what the best way is. If there is a link to starting sod organically that I missed, please point me in that direction.


    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 11:38AM
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funkyamazon(Los Angeles)

Note- I have NOT rototilled yet. I was under the impression that I had to, in order to loosen the hard compacted clay soil that's been under concrete for 50 years. I plan to amend with OM but am open to which kind. I need to level out the area and add compost but maybe there is a better way than tilling it?

Dschall mentioned that tilling really sets you back in some threads and I'm trying to avoid making huge mistakes. I had a really bad experience with fescue and similar soil, and I want to try and avoid having a repeat issue. I'm contacting UC today to find the best sod to lay but want to do the best prep first.

It's difficult to pull together all the information offered here, I read and read and read, and rarely post. I gather info for a long time, typically. Now I'm ready for action and hope people may make suggestions to help a lawn newbie not really screw this up. I really do not do well with grass but in the interest of keeping the whole family happy, I'm trying to compromise. I have an organic garden and would be happy to provide the organic lawn to make my son and husband happy. This leaves me with questions on how best to prep.

There are some incredibly knowledgeable people on here that appear to have science backgrounds. I am a designer. I do aesthetics for a living and need a bit of science to back up the design choices I make, hopefully before I really screw things up!

Thanks for any input. Willing to stop the tilling for a better route. The earthworms in my garden may thank me.

Sprinklers go in next week. Sod can go in after, I would like to not take the maximum time on this, if possible, but if waiting a few weeks nets vastly better results, I'm willing to at least entertain the idea.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2012 at 12:28PM
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Sometimes tilling is a good and necessary thing to do and sometimes it is not. Whether to till or not depends on the condition of your soil, and how quickly you want to incorporate any organic matter, and whether the OM will be worked into the soil by the Soil Food Web. Tilling is known to do some adverse things to soil, but the addition of organic matter might overcome those by supplying the SFW with a good diet.
Before laying your sod you want a good, healthy soil for it to grow into and if that means tilling then do it.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 7:37AM
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funkyamazon(Los Angeles)

I am hand tilling the soil and amending it with organic compost in the next few days. I just tested the pH and it came up a bit above 7.0, so I'll need to amend it to make it slightly more acidic. As far as I can tell, KBG/rye mix likes the pH between 6 and 7, so a bit more acid will probably get me in the range. I know cotton meal is a good acid additive, but I need to look into whether there's a good alternative from the feed store. I plan to get alfalfa to put down before I sod and feed my St Augustine I've been ignoring in the front yard.
I decided to till since the soil was so compacted that even a trenching shovel was having trouble breaking through. I figured the roots would have the same issues. There was also a bunch of old roots that needed to come out. It seemed the best option at this point.
Thanks for the input. I now need a bit more research on the proper amendments and I'm waiting to hear back from the UC Ext. They said it can take a few days to get back to me.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 5:59PM
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Keep in mnind that most all of the cotton raised in the USA today has been genetically engineered to be resistant to glyphosate products at a minimum, so cottonseed meal may not be what an organic gardener would want to use.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 7:06AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Sounds like you and your hubby are opposites in many ways.

I have a perfectly fine organic StAugustine lawn in San Antonio. I guess my lawn in George West is organic, too. I haven't put anything on it but I have a bag of alfalfa in the garage. By the way, where are you getting alfalfa in Pasadena?

Pasadena is critical information. I was going to suggest Marathon, Marathon II (dwarf Marathon), or Marathon III (dwarf Marathon II). You might like the taller Marathon variety. If you have full sun, then either Kentucky bluegrass or bermuda sod (Tif 419) would work.

Please resist tilling. You can restore your soil to perfect health in just a few weeks using an organic approach. If you have time, you can cover it in mulch and moisten it. A little bit of moisture over mulched soil will allow the beneficial fungi to return and repopulate the soil. Those are the guys you really need. Once they are back in full bloom, your soil will be magically soft all without tilling. If you don't have time for that, spray your soil with 3 ounces of clear shampoo per 1,000 square feet. Do that twice at 2 week intervals followed by deep watering each time. The soap will allow the water to penetrate much deeper than you are getting now and will allow the fungi to repopulate.

I believe compost is not nearly as valuable as something like alfalfa. If you piled up a bag of all the organic fertilizers, in a year you would have compost. That compost would be no better than any other compost. It would be the depleted remains of the original materials.

Your soil test is worthless. Sorry but DIY soil test kits are worthless. From the git-go you are not using dionized purified water for your testing. If you test the soil with tap water at a pH of 8, your soil test will likely show a pH of 8. It's magic! And just because the pH is not perfect, that does not mean you have to do something. Most grasses are tolerant of fluctuations in soil pH.

Are you putting in the sprinklers yourself? Because a good installer would use a ditch witch instead of a trenching shovel. Know this: ALL THE DIRT that comes out of the trench MUST GO BACK on top of the trench. If you spread it all out to make it level, in 3 years you will have a trench following the lines of the irrigation trenches. Pile it back up and it will all settle back in. This is especially true in Pasadena, CA. (not really but I'm trying to make a point).

Before you decide on which lawn type, you might take a visit to two nearby places: Descanso Gardens and the Huntington Library. Let your son crawl around on the various grasses they have on display there. And if the St Aug is tearing up your son's knees, I believe it is being mowed far too low. It should be 4 inches high after mowing. That is typically a mower's highest setting.

Don't mix rye with anything and definitely NOT KBG. You can mix varieties of KBG seed or mix in some Marathon, but don't mix in rye.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2012 at 9:24PM
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Most of Southern California is a good place to grow UC Verde, specifically designed to grow there.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 10:04AM
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